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Friday, April 16, 2010
Weaver doesn't want ace label just yet

By Mark Saxon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

TORONTO -- He stood out there under the big gray roof and relentlessly pounded the strike zone.

In this early stretch, when Los Angeles Angels pitchers seem intent on walking entire lineups, Jered Weaver went seven innings at Rogers Centre without letting anyone walk.

He trusted his stuff. His sharp slider, a good changeup and a well-placed fastball are all he needs. The Angels have pitchers with better raw stuff, but far less conviction.

Jered Weaver
Jered Weaver gave up two runs and struck out eight in seven innings against the Blue Jays on Friday.

And yeah, he showed a little fire. At one point, he seemed agitated when he and catcher Jeff Mathis couldn't get their signs straight. He aborted his delivery, then stalked off the mound. When he gave up a home run, the TV cameras caught him yelling something nasty.

Put it all together and it looked an awful lot like the leader of a staff coming into his own Friday night. Put it all together and it looked an awful lot like John Lackey used to look.

Just don't call Weaver an ace. Not yet anyway. Since he has made only three starts, maybe it's fair to call him the ace of the moment, but it seems to be a pivotal moment for this team. Friday's 7-5 win over the Toronto Blue Jays was only the fourth win in 11 games for the Angels, who haven't showed the pitching depth they expected to have.

Again, hold off on the ace talk, Weaver said.

"It's the same thing I said in spring training. We don't have one guy," Weaver said. "We've got five guys who are going to be able to get deep into games. We've started off a little slow, but it's early and we're always a team that's turned it around. It's just a matter of time before we start getting that mojo going."

The Angels clearly needed somebody to start pulling the sled. The pitching has been largely dead weight so far.

Going into Friday, the Angels had the worst ERA (5.63) in the American League. What chafed manager Mike Scioscia even more than the league-leading 17 home runs they'd given up were the 43 walks they'd handed out.

At least a couple of Angels pitchers aren't afraid of the strike zone. Joel Pineiro also didn't walk a batter two days earlier. In two of the past three days, the Angels have gotten a briskly pitched, bullpen-saving starts.

Weaver (2-0) and Pineiro (1-0) remain the only Angels starters who have gotten wins this year. Scioscia gave Weaver the ball on Opening Day, but he's also shy about using the term, "ace."

"We've got time to evaluate that, but the way he competes and the way he feels right now with his stuff, he can keep pitching himself into that guy," Scioscia said. "I think he's got the makeup for it."

He may not want to talk about it, but nobody cares as long as he keeps acting like it.

Trends

People can debate the merits of playing Mathis or Mike Napoli all they want. It might be a more interesting debate at this point to wonder where Mathis ranks among American League catchers early in the season.

He has been on a torrid pace at the plate since last October, having gotten at least one hit in each of the last 14 games he has played, including the postseason.

But his real value was on display in the seventh inning. The Angels had a 4-1 lead, but Toronto -- which has been fighting hard early in the season -- had a couple of runners on with nobody out.

Weaver bounced a pitch that squirted up the third-base line. Mathis pounced and threw to third to put out Adam Lind and effectively end the threat.

"That's a short list of catchers in baseball that could make that play," Scioscia said. "That's Jeff's athleticism."

Needless to say, Napoli isn't on that list. It's becoming more and more apparent that, if the Angels don't trade Napoli, he will wind up a designated hitter some day.

By the numbers

It's a somewhat self-evident stat, but it's also the most telling description of what has been keeping the Angels from consistently scoring.

In their four wins, they are 17 for 43 (.395) with runners in scoring position.

In their seven losses, they are eight for 53 (.151) in those situations.

The lesson seems pretty obvious: Get clutch hits. That, of course, is easier said than done.

Quote of the day

"You don't see too many guys throwing off their back foot and getting a guy at third. He's pretty good back there." -- Weaver on Mathis.

Look ahead

The Angels would like to keep some momentum going from their starting pitchers. Joe Saunders could push that effort ahead with a second straight good outing. He gave up only one hit through six innings against Oakland last time, but a hard-luck seventh knocked him out.

A seeing-eye grounder and a bloop single contributed to Saunders taking his second loss in two starts. He hasn't pitched well against the Blue Jays traditionally, going 1-3 with a 4.68 ERA.

The Angels face Toronto left-hander Brian Tallet, who has a 7.36 ERA against them mostly as a reliever.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.